The Sound of Silence
If I had told you twenty years ago that by the year 2000 we would have flying cars you might have believed me. If I had said that people would pay $350 for headphones that prevented them from hearing, you would have called the nice men in white lab coats to take me away.
But here they are (the headphones, not the nice men). Bose sells two models of noise canceling headphones and other manufacturers including Sennheiser, Sony, Phillips, and Audio-Technica, among others, have begun producing their own.
A couple of years ago a Yankelovich survey found that one third of Americans would accept a slightly lower standard of living if they could live in a world free from advertising (Mission accomplished. At $350/pr. those headphones simultaneously block advertising while lowering your standard of living). In fact, what those expensive but silent headphones seem to be telling us is that it's not just advertising people are desperate to escape. You and I are overwhelmed by all manner of sensory input.
Daily we are bombarded by information from every angle. Our overtaxed minds are weary from trying to make sense of it all. Where do we store that news story about genocide in Africa? How do we make sense of that new economic indicator? Paris Hilton is in jail, SO WHAT!!!!!!!! Enough already. Stop the noise.
The Future Belongs to the Filter
I think noise canceling headphones are a compromise that foretells the future. People don't want to block all sound, they want to block irrelevant sound. But, with no way to separate the relevant from the irrelevant some people would rather block it all than try to sort through it themselves.Those folks currently settle for noise canceling headphones.
As the world races toward increased connectivity and more information, I think a new and larger opportunity is on the horizon: The Filter. The more confusing the world becomes, the more we will crave clarity. The more information accosts us, the more we will need a way to sort through it. Less is becoming more in a very true sense. Consider these examples:
Progressive: Progressive doesn't sell insurance so much as it sells insurance quotes. It's a filter for insurance companies. They serve customers by sorting through the nearly-indecipherable jungle of insurance plans to filter out the one that's best for you.
NetFlix: The benefit of Internet's largest movie rental business is not is huge selection, it's the proprietary algorithm that helps you find a movie you will enjoy. Netflix realizes this is where its value resides and that is why it is offering a $1 million prize to anyone who can devise an algorithm that improves consumer satisfaction results by more than 10%. Netflix is also a filter.
Consumers say they want selection, but they don't define selection as limitless choice. Selection is having the one item they want. Choice without the ability to select the best alternative is as worthless as no inventory at all.
The future will increasingly paralyze us with choice, that's why the future belongs to the filter. Do you agree? Does the future belong to the filter? What other examples do you see? Spread the fire. GS